electro-matic: the film and video work of Ian Andrews
Lost and found
Around 1979 I began reading the works of William Burroughs: The Naked Lunch, The Ticket that Exploded, The Soft Machine, and Nova Express. Burroughs’ writings got me interested in experimenting with tape recorders to cut-up and manipulate sound. In 1981 I happened to find, on the side of a road, several boxes full of 16mm films. I began to cut the film up into small segments and randomly join it back together again. In 1983 I began to show the film along with my sound work at various events. This film project called “Of Things Injurious” always remained a work in progress. Because I didn’t have a proper splicer and the film was joined together as best as I could manage, it often got chewed in the projector. So some bits would be lost and new segments would be added over time. I was never particularly precious about it.
The Age of the Video Fun Cassette
In 1984 I began working with video. Video recorders (VHS), at that time, were still quite expensive, so I picked up some old J-format , black and white, reel to reel machines, and a black and white camera. After mucking around with these dinosaurs I eventually rented a VHS machine which I used to assemble my various experiments and pieces. I made tapes which I sent to other artists across the world in much the same way that I had been exchanging audio cassettes. In the early eighties there was a strong culture of international networking, tape exchange, and collaboration. This was the age of the fun cassette. The idea was to put everything on tape and send it out to the world. Unlike film and video art, this practice which was linked to industrial, post punk culture, involved a devaluing of the work as a commodity, and putting the emphasis on exchange of ideas, which had its roots in Fluxus and the mail art movement.
The first of these tapes was Chloroform, (1984) thirty minutes of 16mm cut-up, manipulated in various way with video processing. Followed by Fastest Accelerating TV: twenty five minutes of video cut-up and Corrosion Mechanisms: black and white video cut-up from the J-format experiments.
More cut-up work followed in 1985-86: Jet Vein Deflection, Auto Icon, News Vacuum and Krush Kill Destroy.
Eventually I more or less gave up on the activity of tape exchange. Most of Europe has the PAL video system, while the Americas and Japan have NTSC. Due to complexity and expense of system conversion videotape exchange (unlike audio) was mainly limited to Europe( which, apart from the UK, lacked the culture of scratch video/cut-up). Much of the cut-up work had a political message and so I was desperate for a wider audience. Due to copyright concerns, much of this work could not be shown on television or regular venues. One method of distribution was to record short cut-up excerpts onto the end of rented video cassettes, providing future viewers with a nice little surprise. Another method involved projecting onto buildings in the city.
1987 saw the formation of Battleship Potato ( John Jacobs, Garry Bradbury and myself). We put our money together and bought a couple of old top loading U-matic editing decks and began to create videos for the music, which we were then making together. We produced a number of video clips including A Hindu Vision of a TV Repairman in Hell (1987). Which was made in a collaborative way by each taking turn to insert edit on the fly, cutting in and cutting out in time with the music over a number of passes. One persons cuts would either write over previous shots or sit next to them in a kind of ad hock way.
The period of 1989 to 1996 saw the production of a number poetic, essay type films. I had devoted much time to the study of French Post-Structuralist philosophy, in particular the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, and these films are, to some extent the result of visually working through these ideas. Joey: an electro-mechanical boy (1989) is based on Bruno Bettelheim’s case study of a schizophrenic child (first brought to my attention via Deleuze and Guattari’s book Anti-Oedipus). Joey concerns the depiction of human subjectivity from a purely machinic perspective. I did not seek to provide a formal representation of Joey’s condition but rather, a poetic visual and aural interpretation of his inner world. In Deathless (1990), a pseudo-documentary, concerning the poetics of death and its cultural iconography in Western society, the human body is flung into battle, obliterated in the air, consumed by carrion birds, worms and bacteria, while a catholic priest recites a reassuring eulogy for the soul (in German and English). Beneath the narration, however, a Nietzschean reading, presents itself; litered with notions of discontinuity, dissolution, loss of identity, forgetting, and silence. In Phonogramm (1992) an office worker struggles to negotiate a path between two extremes: schizophrenic ecstacy, and paranoid withdrawal. Like Joey, the worker is connected to an ensemble of machines (typewriter, pen, gramophone, machinegun) which both store and determine his output.
Programme (1996) was the first Post-UTS video and is unashamedly packaged for an audience weary of difficult films (or with shorter attention spans). This film is based on a piece of found home movie footage from the 1940s or 50s which documents the activities of a military training institution for young boys in Sydney. The military precision of the "in camera" editing and the frugality of the film usage for this piece impressed me. It seemed that the editing had been subjected to the same discipline as the boys depicted in the film who were made to run, march, salute, exercise and vault to a strict rhythm. In the filming of these exercises much effort has been made by the camera operator not to waste a single frame. This example of austerity filmmaking inspired me to re-edit the footage on video, carrying the process further by ordering the frames into precise sequences based on the rhythms of military marches and adding the element of repetition. The sequences are punctuated by segments of text based on Michel Foucault's "Discipline and Punish," in which Foucault speaks about the penetration of the human body by a regime of meticulous control which underlies all of the institutions of Western society (School, church, hospitals, prison, etc.) generally described as discipline. The "correct means of training" ensures the correct use of the body, which ensures the correct use of time, which is completely purged of useless or non-productive behaviour.
In these terms I try to raise the question of the future of Australian society by invoking our past as a penal colony. There is some irony (and surely a little embarrassment) in the fact that one observes that this event, which is not too distant in our own history, is carried out under the auspices of the Union Jack, and not our own (however inappropriate) flag.
One of my concerns over the last decade has been the emergence of the global information economy and its repercussions on society. In the late 80s concerns about the misuse of technology often focused on big government, Big Brother, surveillance, secret service, etc. I tried to shift the debate more towards a privatised scenario, dominated by large corporations and decentralised financial markets of capitalism. In other words, from a centralised model, to one which is networked and dispersed. Zeroville (1993) is a critique of this model of late capitalism, economic rationalism and globalisation. The film is based on Jean Luc Godard’s Alphaville (1966) which depicts a technological dystopia of the future. But where as Godard presents us with a totalitarian future of the modernist fictional model (Orwell, Huxley), my aim was to re-present his ideas in the context of the decentralised, deterritorialised development of late capitalism and postmodern culture. I used Godard’s idea of depicting a futuristic metropolis using banal images from the present. I made this video while studying at The University of Technology, Sydney, so the forbidding corporate architecture of the UTS tower complex, on Broadway, provided me with a perfect set. Several years later I decided to re-examine some of the ideas expressed in Zeroville, in the light of the development of the internet, and I was astonished to find how much the tide of popular opinion had shifted, from the suspicious technophobia and paranoia of the eighties, to the opposite extreme: the euphoric technophillia of the “digital age” of the late 90s. Data Panic (1998) was, this time, inspired by George Lucas’ THX1138 which opens with a montage of technical operations, messages, warnings, alerts, advertisements of a closed but media saturated society. Data Panic is also a remake of an earlier video, Terminal Zone (1988), out of which, along with Zeroville, it plunders a number of shots. The voice over and inter-titles (error/warning messages), written with a random sentence generator, are interspersed with well known advertising slogans such as Nokia’s “human technology,” and Nike’s “just do it.”
Scratch Video and Animation
My first animation film: Hyperspace (1989) was made with a 16mm Oxbury rostrum camera at UTS. It consisted of hundreds of small images cut out of 1950s magazines and made to move around in “outer space.” In the next few years I would carry this technique into digital video with computers. The availability of reasonably inexpensive personal computers, that had the ability to digitize and animate video, occurred in the late 80s with the introduction of the Commodore Amiga. In 1991 I produced a number of shot digital video animations which appeared in Plastic (1991) and Harm Machine (1991).
The next year I joined the scratch video group: Subvertigo with John Jacobs and Marco Fante. Subvertigo provided live visuals at dance parties, raves and other events often for up to twelve hours at a time. To do this we put together a huge and complex array of equipment consisting of Amiga computers, Fairlight CVIs, feedback cameras, roving cameras, vision mixers, oscilloscopes, video synthesisers, processors, colourizers and VCRs which was like a pulsating organic electro brain that was never completely within our control. This absurd machine was fed with many hours of video cut-up which we had all produced in the 80s.
Neo-Minimalism and Molecular Media
In 1999 I began experimenting again with 16mm film. As a reaction in the opposite direction to the fast cutting style of my previous films and my work with Subvertigo.
Departure (1999) was constructed by superimposing a number of 16mm film loops to create slowly moving textures. The film loops were chosen from found film, and painted and decaying strips of film. The loops are combined by a video process known as a non-additive mix. The result is has a dreamlike painterly quality which looks something like a cross between the work of Derek Jarman and Max Ernst.